The announcement came just after a small crew had finished setting up a 64-by-64-foot stage on the east side of the Forum’s skating rink in November 1994. It would be the final performance of Tulsa’s Concert on Ice, the end of a 16-year holiday tradition.
The annual event featured the Tulsa Philharmonic, a 100-member children’s choir and dozens of local skaters performing to yuletide music at the old Forum shopping mall inside the downtown Williams Center. And that year, more than 7,000 people crowded around the ice rink to see it one last time, according to the archives of the Tulsa World.
They came to say good-bye not just to the Concert on Ice but to the ice itself and to the Forum, most of which was going to be converted into office space at the end of the Christmas season.
The Forum opened in 1978 as an experiment in urban renewal, trying to lure consumers away from suburban shopping malls by giving downtown a mall of its own. The project included a movie theater plus more than 60 retailers and restaurants spread across three levels, all overlooking the largest ice rink in the state — 185 feet long and 85 feet wide, which still wasn’t always big enough to accommodate the crowds who wanted to use it, according to the World’s archives.
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The rest of the mall, however, was never as popular as the ice. By the end of the 1980s, more than half the Forum was empty.
The food court, or at least a smaller version of it, survived for a while after the skating rink disappeared. But office workers alone couldn’t generate enough business to sustain it. And by the time the food court closed in early 1997, only two restaurants were left to have their leases canceled: Tabouli’s Greek-style eatery and Harden’s Fried Chicken.
Now the BOK Tower is building a new food court that will sit within a short walking distance from where the Forum used to be. Part of a large-scale renovation of the skyscraper’s main plaza, the restaurants will include Rib Crib, Chicken and the Wolf, Señor Pablo, Tokyo Garden, fRoot Bowls and a rare QuikTrip without gas pumps.
But what makes anybody think the new food court will succeed nearly 30 years after the Forum failed?
Well, for one thing, COVID-19 has changed the way downtown eats lunch. A long list of once-popular restaurants have closed in recent months, including Lassalle’s New Orleans Deli, the Greens on Boulder, Oklahoma Joe’s and Billy’s on the Square.
A lot of people who used to commute to work are now working from home. And those who are still coming downtown don’t seem to be venturing very far from their desks to find a place to eat. By some estimates, downtown has about a third of the foot traffic that it had before the pandemic.
In a way, all downtown restaurants are facing the same problem that doomed the Forum’s old food court after the ice rink closed: They simply don’t have enough people walking around anymore.
The BOK Tower’s new food court, however, will put lunch within an elevator ride of several large companies that still have bustling offices, including the Bank of Oklahoma, Williams and Magellan Midstream Partners.
But is it too late to include an ice rink in the plans?